Who’s Delusional?

Oct 1 2012 @ 10:46am

In our polarized culture, actual experience of the economy doesn't seem to matter as much as whether you are on Team Red or Team Blue. And it has been that way in the past:

The landmark 1960 The American Voter, a study of the elections of 1948 through 1956, 9-11-12-1found something similar of voter attitudes toward the Korean War, speculating that when a voters’ views conflict with his party allegiance, “allegiance presumably will work to undo the contrary opinions.”

“The influence of identification on attitudes toward the perceived elements of politics has been far more important than the influence of these attitudes on party identification itself,” the authors wrote. That is: Party identification appeared, at times, to trump voters' experience of reality.

My italics. The Pew graph shows Democratic optimism about the economy – and such a sudden switch in September, you just have to credit one obvious thing: the Democratic Convention and Bill Clinton's speech especially. He told the real story of the past few years, as opposed to the ludicrous narrative of a desperate opposition. And Democrats believed him. But just as remarkable is the sharp rise since March of Republicans saying they are hearing mostly bad things about the economy. I know the recovery remains sluggish – even if it's a joy ride compared with Europe right now. But it's twice as bad now as it was in March? Shurely shome mishtake.

The "Independents" are just a little closer to the Dems than to the Republicans – but they were indistinguishable from the Republicans only a year or so ago- and much closer to the Dems than the GOP just a couple of months ago. Basically, my view is that the Indies probably view the situation the most accurately, the Dems have just gotten a bolt of enthusiasm, and the GOP has sunk into a conviction, that despite the highest growth rate in the West, slowly declining unemployment, and 4.4 million new private sector jobs since the nadir, and a stock market that has doubled in value under Obama, it's all going to hell. It's almost as bad now as during the debt ceiling fiasco of last summer.

And so when I read or hear Republicans talking about this failed presidency in apocalyptic terms, I feel rather like Mark Lilla. It's not that I disagree. I cannot even begin to see how a conversation can begin. We have different experiences of reality. But that's why, I think, this election is so fascinating. It will, by default, offer us a direct take on the majority's perception of reality. If that isolates the GOP on the losing side, they may need David Byrne:

And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?